Over the years we have bared witness to a dirge of comic book licensed based games. With varying success. Although for the most part the majority haven't been worth you're time, there are are a few standouts among the tripe. I figure there are a lot of games worth mentioning. Some are brilliant masterpieces worthy of any fans game collection, others flawed but still worth playing, and then there are the bottoms of the barrel. I won't research online every game ever made and it's review ranking, instead I'll be going through my own game collection (which is quite large) and my own memories of playing these games growing up. The games I loved and feel worthy of the "must play" moniker. So I'll start with the best of the best.
P.S. I've captioned the pics with the console I played the game on to offer a fair assessment of what I thought, without being bogged down by lackluster ports.
BEST COMIC BOOK GAMES
Maximum Carnage (Super Nintendo/Sega Megadrive)
Probably the first great comic book based game I ever played. I remember hiring this game on SNES all the time with my friends growing up. A side scroller beat em up based on the popular comic. Spider-man and Venom team up to take on Carnage and his cronies. Featuring the ability to play as Spidey and Venom, as well as a slew of superhero cameo's made this a fan favorite. The fact it was balls hard didn't make it any less addictive. Although the later released sequel/reskin, Separation Anxiety featured 2 player co-op it was the original brawler with the Green Jelly soundtrack that earned it's place in my heart.
Captain America and the Avengers (Super Nintendo)
A perfect port of the classic arcade smash hit. While a pretty standard side scrolling beat em up the game is notable for its awesome character selection and kick ass multiplayer. Back in the day I found a copy on Super Nintendo at a second hand store, it was rare even for back then. Having already played the game at my local arcade I knew I had to purchase. Back then there weren't a lot of Marvel games to choose from and I remember having a lot of fun as me and my buddy took to the skies as Iron Man and Vision blasting the hell out of everything in our path, and need a friend you will because the game is balls hard.
Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (Gamecube/PS2/xbox)
A true classic. Everything a Hulk game should be, featuring a big open world to throw yourself around and destroy, awesome boss fights and kick ass upgrades. Like a destructible version of a Spidey outing, the game was immense fun and to this day the greatest videogame adaption of the character. Great visuals and epic spectacle, just try not to geek out as you run up the side of buildings, flinging yourself toward attacking helicopters. A game no Marvel fan should be without.
Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (Gamecube/xbox)
While not a true classic or even a great game, this cheap, rushed fighter isn't without a redeeming quality. Yes the main game and story were average at best, and at worst, pure balls, featuring a bunch of no name, B grade characters made specifically for the game, to fight alongside more famous, familiar Marvel heroes and villains. With all it's obvious flaws what's the reason for its inclusion on my list? Multiplayer. All issues forgotten as you make geek/fanboy dream matches come true. Spidey Vs Venom, Hulk vs Thing, Wolverine Vs Magneto, Daredevil Vs Elektra, the list goes on. My friend and I must have lost months playing multiplayer, always Spidey Vs Daredevil atop the roof of the Daily bugle with building knock offs being the objective as one player would almost certainly plummet to their death. It got heated. Thinking about it is making me want to dig it out again and invite my mate over.
Judge Dredd: Dredd Vs Death (Xbox/Ps2)
The very first good Judge Dredd game not only featured decent graphics, fun first person shooter mechanics and a story full of comic fan service, but also featured another vital component that made it so memorable and earned it's place among the greats, multiplayer. You could split screen co-op the story mode, two bad ass judges shooting anything that dares stand in your way. When you grow tired of that take to death matching. I'll never forget the amount of fun (and wasted hours) my friend and I had playing as perps taking down unstoppable computer controlled Judge bots. Creating our own scenarios, odds stacked against us, playing so much we had the level layout memorised. I miss the days of couch multiplayer. While there have been other Judge Dredd games released on different systems, none come close to this fantastic adaption (I downloaded the PSONE Judge Dredd light-gun game but I'm afraid even in it's time of release would have been considered trash) It would be a dream come true if they ever made a sequel to Dredd Vs Death, though doubtful given it's lack of popularity. I'd even be happy with a HD remaster. I'm sure that same friend would be down for a few more rounds of Perps Vs Judge.
The Punisher (xbox)
While timed to coincide with the release of the Punisher film the game thankfully chooses to adapt the comic instead. Featuring an adult story and top class graphics, this is the game Max readers deserved. You feel like the Punisher (which is honestly the highest praise you can give a superhero based game) as you blast away bad guys with a million different weapons, the gun selection is honestly staggering, and perform ultra stylish special kills with appropriately gratuitous gore. The game was banned in Australia when it released due to the archaic rating system at the time, so I was forced to import it. It was definitely well worth the price. I still get it out every now and then.
Writing about the Judge Dredd game made me remember another forgotten classic first person shooter from that era, the wonderful X-lll. Based on the popular Belgian comic book. A stunning, cel shaded graphic art style was used to bring to life the story of amnesiac Jason Fly (voiced by the always brilliant David Duchovny) as he flees Government forces in this espionage, spy thriller. Big budget stylish comic book graphics coupled with tight shooter mechanics made this stand out as a multiplayer staple among me and my death match loving friends back in the day. Unfortunately like Dredd, a sequel was never green lit leaving them no choice but to rest solely in our nostalgic gaming memories.
Marvel Vs Capcom series (Arcade/PSONE/Dreamcase/Xbox/Xbox360/PS2/PS3..)
While children of the Atom and Marvel Superheroes may have been Capcom's first dabble with a comic book license, it was the arcade game X-Men Vs Streetfighter that first birthed this classic series. A 2-D fighter, original for melding both characters from Marvel's X-Men comics with staple Street Fighter characters and for introducing the two character tag mechanic. The game proved so popular the follow up would incorporate characters from both Marvel and Capcom huge catalogue of character's. Supporting a huge roster of character's the arcade game was a huge hit leading to a fantastic Sega Dreamcast port and a so/so playstation port. I remember discovering this game at my local bowling alley and falling in love. I could create my dream team of Marvel fighters, reenacting my favorite snes glory days playing Maximum Carnage. Spidey and Venom Vs everyone, tag teaming my way to victory. I was an addict. Marvel Vs Capcom 2 followed with similar success this time porting to PS2 and Xbox. Following the success of the download only HD remaster of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 on the Xbox online store, Marvel Vs Capcom Origins released also for download, this time remastering the original classic. Capcom cooled off the franchise for a few years, wisely waiting for the next graphical leap before unleashing Marvel Vs Capcom 3 on a modern audience. This time incorporating a graphical style similar to the revolutionary Street Fighter 4. Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Ultra also released for PS3 and 360. An enhanced version with a few new character additions. With such a long history, spanning many consoles, this would have to be one of the most successful examples of a licensed comic book game.
Spider-Man series (PSONE, N64, Dreamcast)
Now this was a treasure of a game. I remember playing the first level on a magazine demo disc, loving it so much I burned out the disc. This was the game I had waited my whole life for. After playing numerous bad Spidey games over the years (the first game I ever purchased was the admittedly terrible Spider-man on Sega Master system) seeing Spidey web slinging around an open 3D world was a thing of beauty. When the game finally released I made it a day one purchase. Disappoint it did not. Despite being relatively easy to finish (around 5 hours if my memory serves) the replay value was staggering. Varying difficulties, comics to collect, costumes to unlock (Scarlet Spider!!!) ensured the need to keep playing. I must have finished it a hundred different times without ever growing bored. As a fan, nothing up until that point came close to the sheer glee that came from swinging around an open 3D city, taking on Spidey's most famous villains. While I had fun with the flawed Playstation follow up Enter Electro, it didn't come close to the brilliance of the first game.
X-Men: Mutant Academy (PSONE)
If you dig comic books and fighting games but Marvel Vs Capcom was a little too Japanese flavoured for you and you prefer fighters a little darker and realistic then Mutant Academy was the game for you. Again released for PSONE following the first films success, this fighter supported a decent roster of characters and featured a graphical style more reminiscent of games like Tekken or Dead or Alive rather than Capcom's anime renditions. A ball to play in multiplayer, and featuring a surprise playable appearance from a certain famous wall crawler, the replay value was high with lots of character art and unlockables. As a fighter the game couldn't be faulted and was succesful enough to receive a PSONE sequel as well as a third game released for Xbox and PS2 called Next Dimension. I own them all and can easily say they are all great quality and lots of fun in multiplayer.
X-Men Legends series/Marvel Ultimate Alliance series (Xbox/PS2/PS3/360)
Featuring top down, cel shaded graphics and role playing game mechanics, married with deep story lines that mirror the comics, the X-Men Legends series became popular on the PS2 and Xbox. Legend's got a well received sequel on the same console generation, leading to the release of Marvel Ultimate Alliance on the next generation of consoles. This time using the new consoles enhanced graphic power incorporating characters from the entire Marvel Universe with similar gameplay and graphic style to the Legends series. Allowing you to create whole superhero dream teams with a mate as you pumped through the story in multiplayer. It was a fanboy delight. A sequel followed, featuring even more crazier team ups and famous storylines from the comics along, with that same tried and true gameplay. Such great franchises, kind of like a superhero flavoured Diablo. I have my fingers crossed for a follow up series on current gen consoles.
Batman Vengeance (PS2/Xbox/Gamecube)
This is a forgotten gem. Overshadowed by the next gen Arkham series, this game is unfairly forgotten as the best game based on the character up until that point. After a slew of 2-D platformers it was Batman's first jump to 3D. Based on the 90's brilliant animated series, the game was so authentic it even featured the voice talents of series staples Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Allowing players the first time to traverse a fully realised Gotham City, as well as added vehicle missions and boss fights resulted in the best videogame for comic fans available at that time. With the recent popularity of the Arkham series there is no better time to check this forgotten gem out. Forget the dodgy sequel Rise of Tin Tsu, threw away all the great gameplay mechanics in favour of a sub par side scroll beat em up.
Spider-Man series: based on the original trilogy of films (PS2/Xbox/Gamecube/PS3/360)
Following on from the successful PSONE Spidey game and using the popular new film as inspiration, Spider-man released for PS2 and Xbox consoles. Featuring similar gameplay as it's last gen predecessor with added graphical enhancements, and even featured the films voice talents. The game was a huge hit. I remember obsessing over every single collectible in much the same way I did with the previous PSONE release. The ability to replay the story as the Green Goblin awarded upon finish was an awesome surprise, ensuring at least one more play through this time causing havoc with my trusty goblin glider. While great fun the original was quickly forgotten once the sequel Spider-Man 2 arrived. Hailed by many as the greatest superhero game ever made and to this day, the definitive spidey videogame experience. Featuring realistic web mechanics, a huge open world to explore, a massive story featuring many classic villains as well as recreating the epic action scenes from the film, its not hard to see why it was so highly regarded. With the release of Spider-Man's third film a third game was released to coincide. A sequel to the second game in name only, it seemed a major step backwards for the franchise and featured a barely tangible, corny story, dumbed down webbing mechanics, and buggy glitches galore. Much like the film it was based on, it was obviously rushed and released unfinished to meet deadline. A low point for the series.
This one was a surprise. A licensed game based off a lack luster film. Not much was is expected of it. When it turned out to be an immensely fun, 'Resident Evil 4' styled action game I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. By no means a true classic, it was formulaic and unoriginal but who cares? The game did feature fantastic graphics (especially the hell levels) cool weapons and fun boss fights. Sometimes that's all you can ask for. Worth checking out.
Spider-man stand alone games: Web of shadows/Ultimate Spider-Man/Shattered dimensions/Edge of Time (xbox/PS2/xbox360/PS3)
When there isn't a movie to adapt Spidey has had a few comic book influenced solo outings. All have been pretty good quality. Ultimate Spider-Man featured a stylish comic art, cell shaded graphic style that looked as if it was torn straight from the page. It also gave you the option to play as Venom which brought back fond memories of Maximum carnage :) Web of Shadows was good fun and featured a few cool guests like Wolverine and other heroes, unfortunately it did feel a little cheap and B grade with corny, stilted dialogue and muddy graphics, luckily none of this overly diminished the fun to be had taking out symbiotes throughout the city. Shattered dimensions was next and it was a fanboys dream come true, featuring a tale spanning a multitude of different Spider-Men from different dimensions teaming up together. Each characters levels having a distinctly different look and feel to each other, ie Amazing looks cell shaded and comic style as he bounces around beating up thugs, where as Noir is gritty and dark leaving you to rely on stealth. It was an amazing game and while the open world, city swinging was sorely missed the game more than made up for it in fan service. Unfortunately its follow up Edge of Time was a typical, by the numbers, rushed for release sequel with none of the qualities that made the first game great, even taking a step backwards and only giving you to different Spidey's to control instead of four. Avoid.
Batman Arkham series (xbox/xboxone/PS3/PS4)
Of course we end up here. How could we not? The absolute pinnacle of comic book licensed games, the Arkham series. Wisely eschewing a film retelling the game instead chooses to use the comic books as inspiration in forging its own path among the mythos. The dark, gritty feel of the Nolan films with an added dose of hefty, comic book influence, it achieves the impossible, it makes you believe your Batman. There are many reasons why this is considered the be all, end all of superhero videogame franchises. Firstly, the fan service. Whether it be the top class vocal talents from famous actors associated with the characters (Mark Hammil, Kevin Conroy) the cavalcade of comic book references and famous villains, ranging from painfully obvious (boss fight) to completely obtuse, blink and you'll miss it (graffiti on a wall) Second the presentation. It's a graphical powerhouse, whether it's the inner confines of the Asylum in the first game with it's twisting, labyrinthine like levels and metroidvania gameplay, or the sprawling, open city available in the second game, the series really only goes from strength to strength with each iteration, with the latest game offering something every Bat fan has only ever dreamed of, a chance to drive the batmobile, and it handles every bit as perfect as you would expect. Nobody is sure what's next for Rocksteady Studios or the Arkham franchise but one things for sure, whatever happens, you can rest assured it'll be sheer quality. Fingers crossed for a Justice League game :P
Some other notable mentions of comic based videogames that almost made the cut, but for one reason or another were left off the list are as follows:
Shadowman (N64) Turok (N64) Amazing Spider-Man (xbox360) Spawn (xbox) Deadpool (PS3) X-Men Origins: Wolverine (xbox360) Captain America: The First Avenger (xbox360) TMNT: Turtles in Time (SNES)
Now that's my list. Before I leave I wanted to take a minute to make mention of what some call the pinnacle of atrocious videogame character adaptations, Superman. Supes had never had a very good run when it came to videogames, beginning all the way back with the release of Superman's first game on Atari 2600. He had a little more luck on Super Nintendo but not a lot, Death of Superman was decent enough in a standard side scroller, beat em up kind of way, though the character definitely felt underpowered. He had also had some luck with Justice League on SNES too, a perfectly dependable one on one brawler, it was no streeties but it did control well enough as well as feature many favorite characters to duke it out with in multiplayer. The problem lies with the character, he is too powerful and has too many powers to properly translate to videogame. He is usually so powerful that there is no sense of danger or failure. The same goes for the opposite of that statement, with his powers either ending up majorly toned down to make a more compelling videogame experience, thus losing the point of the game all together, totally forgetting that it's trying to make you feel like Superman. Another thing? The fact he can fly at supersonic speeds. A lot of games try to incorporate the flying by introducing many frustrating segments, trying to steer a wobbly Superman through rings in the air, that controls even worse in the air then he does on ground. Superman 64 being the worst culprit that comes to mind. Featuring woeful graphics and the hilarious killer fog (design shortcomings pretending to be story) not to mention horrific flying segments, this could very well be the worst game ever made. Since then Supes is getting a little better. There were two games released for PS2, Shadow of Apokolips based off the 90s animated series, while the second was called Man of Steel and was based off the comic book, both were totally forgettable. Then the one-on-one fighter Injustice on PS3/4, 360/xbone featuring a truly bad ass Superman was released for current gen consoles, and was a pretty darn great fighter too. Superman Returns on 360 wasn't brilliant by any stretch but was still worlds better than the 64 debacle. Also the Lego Batman games feature Superman and are pretty darn great too. Perhaps it's time a developer with the appropriate skills step up to the plate and try the impossible, make a decent Superman game *cough* Rocksteady *cough*
That's all from me, in my haste I'm sure I've overlooked some, so if there's any glaring omissions be sure to hit me up in the comments. Follow me on moviepilot for all things pop culture and Twitter @johnnygeekcool